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Polygamist Jeffs tried to hang himself in jail, documents say

  • Story Highlights
  • Documents say after suicide attempt, Jeffs repeatedly banged head on cell wall
  • Transcripts say Jeffs confessed to "immorality," said he is not "the prophet"
  • Jeffs' attorneys say he has recanted statements
  • Jeffs due to be sentenced November 20 on accomplice to rape charge
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(CNN) -- Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs tried to hang himself earlier this year while he was in jail awaiting trial, according to court documents unsealed by a Utah judge on Tuesday.

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Sect leader Warren Jeffs arrives in court to hear the verdict against him September 25 in St. George, Utah.

Jeffs, the leader and so-called prophet of the 10,000-member Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is now awaiting sentencing after being convicted on two counts of being an accomplice to rape.

The documents, released by Fifth District Judge James Shumate at the request of the media, also indicate that Jeffs confessed to "immorality" with a "sister" and a daughter more than 30 years ago.

Among the documents is a competency report on Jeffs completed in April, in which social worker Eric Nielsen wrote that throughout the month of January, Jeffs refused food and drink and developed ulcers on his knees from kneeling in prayer for hours.

On January 28, the report said, he attempted to hang himself in his cell. In the days following the suicide attempt, while he was on suicide watch, Jeffs on separate occasions threw himself against the wall and banged his head on the wall.

Jail transcripts show that Jeffs' suicide attempt came three days after a visit with his brother, Nephi, in which he said, "I am not the prophet. I never was the prophet, and I have been deceived by the powers of evil ... I ask for everyone's forgiveness." Jeffs also told his brother: "Farewell forever."

The day before that, Jeffs told a follower in a phone conversation that he was "covered with immorality with a sister and a daughter when I was younger." In the FLDS, members call adult women "sister," and Jeffs' meaning was unclear.

Jeffs' defense attorneys, who argued against the release of the documents, said in a motion opposing the unsealing of the statements that Jeffs recanted them the following month. Defense attorneys claim Jeffs' medical condition influenced his state of mind when the statements were made.

They presented Shumate with a letter from another Jeffs attorney, arguing that the statements' release could influence an Arizona jury when Jeffs stands trial in that state.

Jeffs, 51, was convicted in September of being an accomplice to rape. He was accused of using his religious influence over his followers to coerce a 14-year-old girl into marriage to her 19-year-old cousin. He faces a sentence of up to life in prison when he is sentenced November 20.

The FLDS -- which is not affiliated with the mainstream Mormon church -- is based in the side-by-side border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona. Jeffs, a former school headmaster, is the son of the sect's previous president and "prophet," Rulon Jeffs, who died in 2002.

Jeffs was on the FBI's 10 most wanted fugitives list when he was arrested in August 2006 outside Las Vegas, Nevada.

Critics say that inside the FLDS, marriages are arranged for girls as young as 13, and competition for brides may be reduced by exiling male teens and young men. If male followers are excommunicated, critics claim, wives and children can be reassigned.

During Jeffs' trial, defense attorneys claimed authorities were persecuting Jeffs because of his religious beliefs, including practicing polygamy as the way to heaven.

If Jeffs disavowed being the prophet of the FLDS, it could cause upheaval within the secretive sect. However, two of his followers who spoke to CNN -- although FLDS members usually do not talk to reporters -- said they do not believe he made the statements.

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"He is a perfectly priestly man," said a woman who identified herself as Cathy. "He is a man of God, and we will always love him. Once a prophet, always a prophet."

Her husband, Patrick, told CNN, "It's hogwash. I don't believe it ... I will always consider him my prophet." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Gary Tuchman contributed to this report.

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